From daily operations to managing church leaders and board members, knowing how to organize a church can be a difficult task.
When I was thrown into the role of being the de facto lead pastor for a period of time, I had no idea how to organize a church. However, there is always something new to learn and God places people where they need to be, when they need to be there.
Church organization is unique from any other business or even a nonprofit operation. Knowing how to organize a church means you have to pull from a plurality of disciplines in order to manage the church well. In Barna’s 2022 report, 19% of Lead Pastors “don’t feel equipped to cope with ministry demands.” In this article, we aim to change that number in some small way.
I will cover a definition of what it means to organize a church, engage in a discussion about leading small vs large churches, and give some productivity and time management tips so you’ll know how to organize a church more effectively and efficiently.
- How To Organize Your Church’s Operations
- Organizing Small Churches vs Large Churches
- 10 Productivity & Time Management Tips For Lead Pastors
How To Organize Your Church’s Operations
The local church is a messy and beautiful community. Whether you are church planting and trying to figure out how to organize a church or have been at a local church for a while, there is a steep learning curve on what it takes to manage a church organization.
Let’s start by defining what we mean when we say church organization. Legally, a church falls under the definition of religious organizations who maintain regular church services, religious rituals, and typically are defined by their tax-exempt status. However, a better definition for our purposes might be: church organization is the total management process of a local church.
If you are just beginning to get a church organized and started, then there are some basic legal and financial considerations to cover. However, if you are trying to figure out how to organize a church that is already in operation, then there is more on the managerial side that most senior pastors and lead pastors don’t consider often enough.
Church Leadership & Board Members
Whether you are starting a new church or managing an existing church, you need to consider how you will organize church leaders and board members. Some of this will include deacons and elders, other churches will focus more on small groups of church members.
Some might be focusing on organizing church finances while others may be focusing on how to practice evangelism and train members of the church to invite new members into the local church community. When you are trying to learn how to organize a church only one thing is certain: communication is key.
Here are some tips for organizing a church leadership or board effectively:
- Focus on the people first, then the process
- If someone can do a task 80% as effectively as you, delegate it to them
- Be consistent
- Create and follow policies and procedures
- When in doubt, ask for guidance from others and allow the group to self-organize as needed
Sometimes, in order to breathe new life into a church organization at any level, you have to put some elbow grease into the maintenance of the building as well as the community. Bylaws can be a hassle, but they are made to foster healthy relationships within the local church community. Likewise, investing time in property management can go a long way to creating a proud community.
Here are some simple tips for maintaining a healthy church community as well as a church property that community can be proud of:
- Remember that God has granted the gift of the building, so encourage people to care for it accordingly
- There are plenty of free resources for healthy church community management, so use them!
- The Kingdom of God is wherever the people are, so treat all new members like a part of the family
When you are discovering how to organize a church, Lead Pastors tend to think about how much work needs to be done and how many volunteers they will need to accomplish the task. However, your church community is more than just a collection of warm bodies ready to help you accomplish all of your goals.
Jesus Christ never treated people as a means to an end, yet so many pastors tend to get caught thinking in terms of how many volunteers they need and forget they are actually equipping people in their community for outreach and evangelism.
Here are some tips to organizing volunteers while also keeping the right mindset about the people who choose to fill those roles:
- Recognize that volunteer management takes a lot of work and prepare accordingly, because they deserve your best!
- Match people to passions, not positions
- Limit the amount of volunteer positions needed until you have more volunteers than positions, then you can scale with your capabilities rather than outpace your growth
- Celebrate your volunteers at every opportunity, in small and big ways
Even trying to figure out how to organize a church is a more administrative task than many lead pastors feel equipped to handle. The daily tasks from managing church finances to figuring out the formats of an announcement can all become overwhelming.
However, church administration is less about the details and minutiae and more about organizing the people and resources of a local community to better love God and love others. As you organize a church, at any stage or age, you are going to need to focus on how to utilize your resources rather than manage mountains of paperwork.
For best tips and best practices to balance the administrative tasks and administrative nature of church organization, check out the list below:
- Delegate administrative tasks according to gifting, not position or role (don’t give the bubbly communicator all the paperwork and the local church curmudgeon the people resource tasks)
- Create an organizational structure that clearly defines order of operations and defines the lead pastor’s authority, for their own healthy and safety
- Focus on the tasks that move the mission of the church forward, not what is typically expected
- Lean on teams and small groups to continue pushing the administrative goals of the church forward
- When possible, detailing a step-by-step procedure for major processes will offer a sense of peace and safety for those who need guidance
Finances & Donations
The dreaded operation of managing financial accounts had to come up eventually in our discussion about how to organize a church. Financial management of a church is a tricky subject and there are always denominational factors that will come into play when discussing exactly how church finances are managed.
Every lead pastor must recognize, though, that they must have an idea of the church’s financial situation at all times, at least to some degree. It is difficult for a lead pastor to be able to encourage and push church leaders forward towards the mission of the church if the lead pastor has no idea the church is in the red financially.
Naturally, this also leads to the role of donations, tithes, and offerings when it comes to knowing how to organize a church. All nonprofit organizations are concerned about giving. Here are a few best practices that can make a difference in how you manage church finances and giving:
- Evaluate the past and current financial health of your church before making adjustments
- Create a simple giving process and giving campaign that you teach at regular intervals
- Set reasonable and attainable financial goals, with plans for what happens if God shows up in a big way for your church
- Make sure you are staying on top of your tax benefits and nonprofit organization status requirements
- Set up a church finance management committee
Read more about the different positions in churches here.
Organizing Small Churches vs Large Churches
I’ve worked at a small church of sub-100 attendees and volunteered at churches of over 2,000 members. One thing remains the same: when it comes to knowing how to organize a church, everyone is just doing their best.
Even those lead pastors and organizations that seem to do an amazing job at organizing their church made mistakes along the way. No one ever knew how to organize a church perfectly the first time with no mistakes along the way. The differences arise in the scale of the operations, but the principles are the same no matter the size of your local church.
The core principles and best practices we have outlined here are only the broad strokes of how to organize a church. They are a great place to start (or restart), whether you are a church of 12 dedicated members or 12,000 globally.
10 Productivity & Time Management Tips For Lead Pastors
If you want to understand how to organize a church, then you are going to need to manage your time and productivity to the best of your abilities. Every lead pastor and senior pastor is different. All pastors will have slightly different roles. All of these productivity and time management tips come straight from some of the best and brightest (Carey Nieuwhof and Craig Groeschel)!
- Take a nap: the power of sleep is amazing for your productivity. A midday 20 minute nap can refresh your mind and spirits.
- Create an idea capture system: part of the problem with trying to hold ideas in our brain is that it takes up too much mental bandwidth. Create a system to get an idea out of your head and into a note, on a piece of paper, a voice memo, etc. Then move on until you are ready to nurture that idea at another point.
- Understand the difference between urgent and important: not everything that is “urgent” is “important.” Understanding the difference between these two will save you a lot of time and stress as you learn how to organize a church more effectively.
- Learn to say “yes, but...”: church members will bombard you with problems, proposed solutions, ministry ideas, etc. Learn to start saying, “Yes, we would love to do that, but...I don’t have the bandwidth. Do you think you could head this up for us?”
- Have an open door policy, but close your door when you need to focus: as pastors, we want to make ourselves for those who need us. However, asking that people respect your time when your door is closed can go a long way to increasing productivity and managing your time more efficiently.
- Silence notifications: this may sound like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of people don’t put their phone away during deep-focus times.
- Take full advantage of your peak productivity window: Carey Nieuwhof covers this in his At Your Best course, but everyone has a 3-5 hour window where they are at their most energetic. Use this window of time to get all of your biggest tasks knocked out. Guard it with your life.
- Schedule your values: give priority in your life and work to the things that are of the highest value. Be comfortable saying “no” to a few things so you can say “yes” to the most important things.
- Create artificial deadlines: putting yourself up against a deadline ensures you will find the time to get it done!
- Empower and delegate to others: you cannot go far in ministry without recognizing that you are incapable of doing everything. Learn this lesson as soon as possible and find people who can do the work better than you and empower them to do it.
Now You Know How to Organize a Church, Right?
Understanding how to organize a church is a never-ending process of adjustments and improvements. What you might have nailed down today will need to be changed tomorrow because of something you didn’t expect.
If you're planning a new church, read more about how to start a church here.
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